No kidding: Kids are often the toughest students to teach.
You probably have noticed this if you’ve taught French to kids, especially little ones. They’re wiggly, they’re easily distracted and they do whatever they want.
It’s easy to feel at sea when teaching young students—even if you’ve got all sorts of fun French teaching resources at your disposal! Planning for any class can be a chore, but tailoring those lesson plans to cater to the needs and interests of kids is even more daunting.
Yet little kids can also be the most rewarding students ever. How so? Much of it depends on what’s in your lessons!
Read on to find out some handy tips on how to make French lessons for kids that are fun and jam-packed with great content.
First, we’ll cover some of the challenges and rewards of teaching little ones. Next, we’ll see some of the best ingredients for a great lesson. Finally, we’ll put those ingredients into action with three handy-dandy lesson plans specially designed for your students les plus jeunes!
Stop Kidding Around: Make Great French Lesson Plans for Kids!
Before getting into our sample lesson plans, let’s consider the rewards and challenges involved with teaching children.
The Challenges of Teaching Kids French
Let’s deal with the “bad news” first, to get it out there. But just know that for each of these challenges, there’s some other positive aspect of teaching kids that cancels it out and makes it all worth it—otherwise, there wouldn’t be any French teachers left!
Still, it’s good to understand what you’re dealing with. Here are three of the most common challenges I’ve noticed.
First of all, kids are wild cards! You never really know what they’ll do or say next. Since their behavior is so often unfiltered, they can be quick to let you know if you’re failing as their French teacher—even if they don’t mean to be rude.
Second, kids’ attention spans are short, so if you’re not careful, they can be all over the place during lessons. Sometimes they wiggle, sometimes they resist, sometimes they completely tune out.
Finally, their progress isn’t always discernible right away—they don’t show it the way adults do. For example, they might refuse to speak French in class (although this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not learning French—see below!).
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The Rewards of Teaching Kids French
What’d I tell you? There’s at least one of these for every challenge! Here, again, are three I frequently notice:
First and foremost, kids are always taking in more than you realize. Eventually, even the toughest kid student will surprise you by revealing they know things in French you never thought they had processed.
Furthermore, young children absorb French (and all languages) like sponges. The younger they are, the better they often are at language acquisition. Furthermore, learning a second language can be incredibly good for early mental development!
Last but not least, kid students keep you on your toes, pushing you to become a better teacher. This goes even for the most difficult students, and of course it applies to many subjects beyond French.
8 Tips for Structuring Great French Lessons for Children
With those challenges and rewards in mind, what are some things to remember when we’re putting together cours de français for little ones? Broadly speaking, our goals are to hold their interest, to immerse them, to foster conversation and to make French fun. Here are eight quick starter tips for all of the above.
1. Think like a kid!
Try to remember how you liked to learn when you were little, especially when you were learning words. Keep in mind that kids are visceral and sensory—they thrive on colors, characters and sounds. My first memory of learning French is reading the book “Babar’s French Lessons”—it was verbal, colorful and filled with fun characters.
Kids also love to watch videos with over-the-top characters and fun plots, cartoons such as the ones you might find on FluentU.
2. Store up lots of energy for teaching French to kids.
Do whatever you can to summon energy before teaching, whether it’s taking a catnap (if possible) or just loading up on plenty of caféine. If your kid students realize you’re tired, they may slack off. The kids follow the teacher’s lead, so you owe it to both you and them to be on top of your game!
3. Use multi-sensory learning techniques.
Drawing, writing, reading, watching and listening are all excellent means of absorbing French, and they can even be combined in a single lesson plan if you’re ambitious (see this article from FluentU for suggestions along some of these lines).
4. Switch things up every now and again.
Make sure you change activities frequently during the lesson! Sure, some kids are great at focusing, but others need variety. Example activities might include a read-aloud, a game, a song or even just unstructured creative play en français. (This FluentU article on teaching preschoolers is a helpful resource.)
5. Put French in context by playing French games!
Never underestimate the power of a good board game or card game in French. Besides being fun, they ease kids into speaking French in a situational context, perhaps without even realizing they’re doing it. (Also—pssst!—teaching hack: you can find a great supply of French games on Amazon.fr.)
6. Read aloud from comics!
Many notable French-language comics are appropriate for kids. Assuming the kid students are of reading age, try reading aloud together from an installment of “Tintin” or “Astérix,” with each of you assuming different characters. Besides obliging your students to speak French, comics are super entertaining and can send you on other helpful learning tangents (i.e. vocabulary, tenses and culture). Plus, it’s great to see kids’ reactions as they put together what’s happening in a story.
7. Make French fun by putting on a play.
Kids have no embarrassment factor and chances are, you won’t either when you’re around them. So engage their French-speaking—and performance!—abilities by putting on a bit of French théâtre. It’s no secret that the more playful we are in our learning, the better we learn.
8. Achieve immersion by doing arts-and-crafts projects en français!
Try doing an art activity with your students—but conduct the project entirely in French. Young learners will again be completely immersed in the language and as a bonus, they’ll get to create something special. Here are some project suggestions for learning English, but you can adapt them to be suitable for learners of any language.
3 Sample French Lesson Plans for Kids
Now for the part you’ve been waiting for: the lesson plans!
The three sample lesson plans below start with warm-ups, then go on to reading, conversation and extension activities, and are rounded off with a suggested homework assignment. You can use them straight out of the box or tailor them to fit your needs.
Lesson Plan #1:
Topic: Who, What, When, Where, Why?
Warm-up: Use flashcards or engaging pictures (Pinterest is always a good source!) to learn the French words for the above question words (Qui, quoi/que, quand, où, pourquoi?).
Reading: Read kids books in French about the above concepts. A few book examples from Amazon.fr are “T’as mal où?” “Qui est le coupable?” and “Pourquoi?”
Activity/Conversation: Use a game like “La boîte à questions Charlie autour du monde” (“Where’s Waldo?” en français!) to familiarize yourselves with the concept of “où” (where).
Extension: Teach the different rooms in a house. For an art project, draw a house together with your students, then make a little figurine and put it into different rooms of the house. This can lead to a Q-and-A dialogue about where the figurine is (“Où est-il?” “Il est dans la salle de bain”).
Homework: Learn different locations you might find in a neighborhood (e.g. the school, the library or the bank). Next time, draw those buildings and play the same game with the figurine, but now put it in different places around the neighborhood (“Où est-il?” “Il est à la bibliothèque”).
Lesson Plan #2
Topic: Vocabulary acquisition (on whatever topics you choose)
Warm-up: Pull fun vocabulary words out of a hat and learn to pronounce them.
Reading: A comic book (bande dessinée or BD in French) can be an excellent tool for vocabulary acquisition! To this end, a volume of the aforementioned “Tintin” or “Astérix” is again an excellent choice, since their stories often take us to far-flung locales and historical eras, so a lot of the vocab tends to be more esoteric.
Activity/Conversation: Scrabble en français is a great way to reinforce words and learn new ones.
Extension: Magnetic French words are great for acquiring new words and forming them into sentences, even poetry.
Homework: Have the kids write a group poem (or individual poems) using new vocabulary words.
Lesson Plan #3
Topic: The clothes we wear
Warm-up: Use flashcards or pictures to teach the different articles of clothing in French.
Activity/Conversation: Make paper dolls and/or paper action figures, with all their component clothes. The more unusual the character, the more specific the vêtements you can teach/learn.
Extension or Homework: Make up a short play for the paper dolls and action figures to act out.
Of course, feel free to modify these lesson plans according to your students’ levels, adapt them to other subjects and just generally make them your own.
And for more lesson plan inspiration, check out other lesson plan articles from FluentU, even if they’re ostensibly about other languages. This one is for kids’ lessons in Spanish (naturally it’s adaptable to French), while this one pertaining to French lessons about Christmas contains a few useful models.
Nicola Rose is a filmmaker, French translator, teacher, writer and puppeteer. Educated at Columbia and the Sorbonne-Nouvelle, she now lives in NYC. Her most recent professional triumph is the short, bilingual film Creative Block.
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